WAUWATOSA, Wis. — A group of students at Marquette University calls themselves the Vaxx Squad. To date, they have helped dozens of senior citizens sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Professor Kurt Gering leads the Vaxx Squad. He teaches Intro to Information Systems and does an assignment on the digital divide.
“That’s the widening gap between those who have access to internet and technology and those who do not,” Gering said. “Right now, that’s about 10% of adults in the U.S.”
Before the pandemic, Gering had his students surrender their cell phones for 72 hours as part of the assignment. He couldn’t do that this year.
“I started to think of other way I might be able to show them how this impacts people’s lives,” he said. “I think the statistics are over 30% of seniors don’t have access to technology and when vaccinations became available, it was predominantly through sign-ups on the web.”
He had an idea to have his students help seniors book vaccine appointments as their assignment. A student had a connection at Wauwatosa Hart Park Senior Center and a partnership formed.
“We came up with a way for seniors to call into that center and pass along their information, which I pass along to the students,” Gering said.
One of those seniors who utilized the Vaxx Squad is Terese Dick. The 60-year-old retired attorney found out about the group while taking a class at the Hart Park Senior Center.
“Within a day, I had an appointment set up,” she said.
Terese said the digital divide has become more apparent to her as she has grown older.
“To say to someone, just check the CDC website about current vaccination status and where you can go,” she said. “Some people don’t have it, don’t know how to use it, or can’t afford it.”
The Vaxx Squad began helping seniors there at the end of March.
“We were noticing that seniors were reaching out to us having trouble scheduling vaccines for themselves,” said senior center program coordinator Kristen Hecht. “It was a wonderful coincidence that Professor Gering called us about the Vaxx Squad that same week.”
Hecht said any senior can get signed up for a vaccine through the Vaxx Squad by contacting the Hart Park Senior Center in Wauwatosa.